Professors at Work: Practicing What He Preaches

June 10, 2013 | CUNY Matters, The University

NAME: Héctor Cordero-Guzmán COLLEGE: Baruch TITLE: Professor of public affairs FOCUS: “I try to be a voice, an interpreter of information. My role is to help communities connect to policy makers and to help those who make policy to better understand low-income communities.”

NAME: Héctor Cordero-Guzmán
COLLEGE: Baruch
TITLE: Professor of public affairs
FOCUS: “I try to be a voice, an interpreter of information. My role is to help communities connect to policy makers and to help those who make policy to better understand low-income communities.”

From its beginning 166 years ago, The City University of New York has always had a dual mission: Deliver high-quality education — and serve the citizens of the city.

Today, CUNY’s 6,700 full-time faculty carry on this legacy, contributing in ways that truly transform our city, benefiting the lives of millions of New Yorkers every day.  Many provide critical training for the city’s diverse workforce.  They teach young scientists to explore new fields like photonics, biodiversity and nanotechnology; they train municipal employees in emergency preparedness for large-scale disasters; they create programs that teach health industry professionals how to detect early incidence of oral cancer and better care for people with developmental disabilities.

In the following months, you’ll find the compelling stories of such CUNY faculty — just a few of the remarkable men and women whose service reflects the unique, historic bond between the University and its city.

OVER THE PAST few years, there has been growing concern among policymakers, academics, practitioners and advocates about the impact of the troubled economy on children and families. Part of the problem is getting good data: What are the specific racial and ethnic demographics of the poor, and where do they live, particularly in large metropolitan areas like New York.

At Baruch College, professor of public affairs Héctor Cordero-Guzmán has made a significant impact with his work. His recent report found that poverty here varies significantly across boroughs and by race and ethnicity. Non-Hispanic whites, for example, make up 34.5 percent of the city’s population, but only 18.2 percent of the poor. By comparison, Blacks/African-Americans are 24.7 percent of the city population but 31.5 percent of the poor and Hispanics are 27.5 percent of the city population but 34.5 percent of the poor. The highest poverty rate is in Brooklyn at 29.3 percent, followed by the Bronx at 25.4 percent and Manhattan with 21.8 percent.

“As a public-affairs professor, I try to be a voice, an interpreter of information,” said Cordero-Guzmán. “My role is to help communities connect to policymakers and to help those who make policy better understand low-income communities.”

Throughout his 20-year career at CUNY, Cordero-Guzmán has taught courses on social science research methods as well as urban demographics; nonprofit management; race and ethnicity; and migration policy. A former chair in the Black and Hispanic Studies Department at Baruch, he also has issued a report on the city’s “disconnected youth,” pointing out the need to increase investments and opportunities for young men, especially those of color. He serves on the advisory board of the Young Men’s Initiative, the city’s comprehensive, public-private effort to tackle these issues.

Cordero-Guzmán is completing a study analyzing the role of community-based organizations (CBOs) in the adaptation and incorporation of immigrants by providing social services, supporting community organizing and engaging in public education and advocacy campaigns.

“I’ve always been interested in improving conditions,” he said. “It’s something that I’ve lived and have been able to make a career of it — I’m lucky.”

Cordero-Guzmán also notes that it’s important for universities to share their expertise with community organizations. “The University contributes the time of its faculty to help organizations work as effectively as they can,” he said. “It brings the community into the University and takes the University out to the community.” He has served on the boards of directors of several prominent nonprofits, including El Museo del Barrio, one of the city’s leading Latino cultural institutions; ACCION-New York, the largest micro-lending organization in the country; and the Community Service Society, one of the nation’s oldest and largest anti-poverty groups.

A resident of East Harlem, Cordero-Guzmán has served on the board of the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone, among other boards. “I not only believe in community economic development, I practice it, live it and have a huge personal and family stake in its success — as do millions of other Americans,” he said.

“I’m on the street corner like everyone else. We call it UCLA: the University on the Corner of Lexington Avenue.”